Program Initiation Activities

Our milestones for Year 01 were as follows: (1) to establish and convene the Program Implementation Committee and the Training Advisory Committee; (2) to finalize protocols for recruitment, application, and selection of MURTI Fellows; (3) to recruit first cohort of four Fellows; 4) to develop and implement a first set of introductory and short courses; (5) to finalize protocols for applications for Mentored Seed-Grant projects and select the first round of up to four Mentored Seed-Grant Projects; and (6) to develop and implement Program and Fellow evaluation protocols. In this section, we first describe the Year 01 activities toward these milestones, focusing on establishment of the Mbarara University Research Training Initiative (MURTI). In Section B.2.2 we describe our accomplishments by individual program Specific Aims.

Establishment of the MURTI

The MURTI grant was awarded on August 28, 2015. We quickly instituted a series of activities that allowed us to begin recruiting Fellows. We constituted the two proposed program oversight committees, the Program Implementation Committee (PIC) and the Training Advisory Committee (TAC). The PIC comprises the two program directors (CelestinoObua, MD, PhD, and Samuel Maling MD), five program faculty (Francis Bajunirwe MD, MSs, PhD; Godfrey Rukundo, MD, PhD; Conrad Muzoora, MD; Joel Bazira, MD, PhD, and Edith Wakida, MA, MRA) and the MUST Academic Registrar (Martha Kyoshaba MA). The PIC held a series of planning meetings and developed a five-year work plan for the MURTI. More specifically, the PIC developed Fellow recruitment materials, application materials, and procedures for Fellow selection and matching with mentors. The PIC continues to meet the third Saturday of every month to review the program performance.

The TAC, comprising two US members (David Bangsberg, MD, MPH, and Patricia Daoust BS, MNS) and five Ugandan members (Jerome Kabakyenga, MPH, PhD; Winnie Muyindike, MD; SseganeMusisi, MD, DPsych; NozmoMukiibi, MS, PhD, and Betty Mabisi, MBA) was constituted, and members received appointment letters. The TAC meets quarterly in-person for the Ugandan team and by Skype for the US delegates; two meetings have been held:

November 18, 2015, and April 18, 2016; the third will be on June 10, 2016. Using protocols developed by the PIC, the TAC has selected the first cohort of MURTI Fellows (see Section B.2.1.3 below) and continues to advise the PDs and PIC.

Faculty who had agreed to be MURTI Mentors were engaged and received letters detailing their responsibilities. In addition, positions of the MURTI Program Manager and Training Coordinator were advertised and filled. The Program Manager, Samantha Mary, BA, is responsible for coordinating short courses, taking records in PIC and training meetings, and preparation of progress reports. The Training Coordinator, Keith Asiime, BA, manages mentor and trainee budgets, schedules specific core and elective courses, and keeps records related to MURTI Fellows. The two enrolled in a Certification in Research Administration online course in January 2016 and are in the process of completing the course. The skills gained are being translated into the administrative implementation of the MURTI grant. We are also in the process of recruiting a Research Administrator who will be responsible for searching for funding opportunities and disseminating to researchers, ensure an up-to-date database of all grants advertised, applied for, and awarded, and track publications. He/she will provide research and grant support to potential and existing researchers; be responsible for research communication; and work with the ICT department to keep the Office of Research Administration (ORA) website vibrant.

The MURTI was formally launched on November 19, 2015 in Mbarara by the Chancellor of Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), Professor Peter Mugyenyi. The 80 attendees included MURTI TAC members, MURTI Mentors from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Uganda (Mbarara University, Uganda Heart Institute, and Makerere University); and MUST community and media representatives. During the launch, the newly appointed Fellows (Section B.2.1.3 below) were presented.

Identification of new Fellow placement sites

After the MURTI launch, the MURTI Program Directors and team visited the Uganda Heart Institute (UHI) and Joint Clinical Research Center (JCRC) work out specialized placement arrangements for Fellows. At UHI, we secured commitment from mentors not only to work with Fellows during their rotations, but also to travel to Mbarara for MUST community outreach programs. We are developing a memorandum of understanding with UHI. At JCRC, we toured the research laboratories, for benchmarking as it is a leading research institution in HIV and related complications in Africa.

1.1.3 MURTI Fellows (see detailed information on individual trainees in Section 2.1).

Fellow Selection: A call for applications was released in October, 2015, targeting MUST junior faculty interested in undertaking a research fellowship in HIV (prevention/treatment/care), neurological disorders, or mental health. Applicants submitted concept papers detailing prior experience in research, a research objective and plan, and commitment to a career in research; curriculum vitae and university appointment letters. The documents were forwarded to the TAC members for screening and selection. Out of the seven applications reviewed, three women (DorahNampijja, MD, and Doreen Nakku, MD in neurological diseases; Scholastic Ashaba, MD in mental health) and one man (TaseeraKabanda, MD in HIV) were selected and awarded fellowships during the program launch.

Mentor Matching and Mentoring Plans: Mentors attended the MURTI launch where Fellows presented their research ideas. There was a Mentor-Mentee session in which roles were discussed and Mentors were matched to Fellows based on their areas of expertise as detailed in Table 1. Additional mentors (Brian Westerberg MD, MHSc and Heather Southam (audiologist) matched to Doreen Nakku; Frances Aboud, PhD matched to DorahNampijja; David

Boulware MD, MPH, matched to TaseeraKabanda; and Christine Cooper-Vince MD, PhD; Lynn T. Matthews, MD; and Angela Kaida MD, PhD, matched to Scholastic Ashaba) were identified and mentoring plans agreed upon.

FELLOW RESEARCH AREA (Seed Grant) MENTORS
Doreen Nakku

Sensory and neural hearing loss among HIV positive children between 6-12 years at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital

Brian Westerberg MD, MHSc

Heather Southam (audiologist)

Francis Bajunirwe MS, PhD

Dorah Nampiija

Patterns of Cardiac Disease and their relationship to Neurocognitive Development Among Children Attending Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital

Frances Aboud, PhD

Charles Mondo MD, Cardiologist

Taseera Kabanda

“Relation of fungal strain genotype to neurological complications in patients with HIV associated cryptococcal meningitis: A retrospective multi-site study” AND “Evaluation of the trends of gene transcription following Cryptococcal meningitis”

Mark Siedner MD,MPH

David Boulware MD,MPH

Conrad Muzoora MD

Joel Bazira MD, PhD

Scholastic Ashaba

Association between depression, stigma and discrimination, bullying and victimization, social support among children and adolescents infected and affected by HIV

Eugene Kinyanda MD, PhD

Christine Cooper-Vince MD, PhD

Lynn T. Matthews, MD

Angela Kaida, MD, PhD

 

Individual Development Plans (IDPs): Fellows’ progress is monitored using an Individual Development Plan (IDP) that each Fellow develops with her/his Mentor(s). The IDP is based on identifying four principles: strengths on which to build, weaknesses to improve, opportunities to exploit and threats to mitigate. The IDP outlines at least four activities to be undertaken to address each principle, timelines, support needed, and expected output. Fellows are required to honor goals and activities agreed upon in the IDPs, with any changes being presented in writing to Mentors for approval. Program leadership uses the IDPs to monitor Fellows’ progress to ensure they are on track. Performance is reported to the PIC quarterly and to the TAC annually. Ultimately, we plan to track Fellows’ IDPs as part of a web portal for research communication, which is under development by the MUST ORA and is expected to be available by the end of August 2016.

Mentored Seed-Grant Projects (Table 1): As proposed, the MURTI leadership offers $10,000 to each MURTI Fellow for a mentored research grant. The MURTI Fellows research proposals, which were approved by the TAC and the PDs, were developed with the support of the mentors and submitted to the MUST Research Ethics Committee for approval. Seed funding is given after the Fellows have received ethical approval. Three Fellows (Drs. Ashaba, Nakku and Nampijja) obtained ethical approvals and received the seed funding, while one (Dr. Kabanda) is awaiting response. Refer to section G.1 for attached IRB approvals.

Institutional Research Capacity-Building

The MURTI supported travel of four MUST Research Administrators to the Society of Research Administrators International Meeting 2015 in Las Vegas, NV, USA and one to the Association of Research Administrators in African meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. These meetings provided a platform for discussion, training, and benchmarking of best practices in research administration. The MUST Research Administrators were able to appreciate the diversity of research administration and took note of areas for improvement.

MURTI supported the Program Directors (Drs. Obua and Maling), the Research Manager (Ms. Wakida), and the University Accounting Officer (Mr. Mujuni Pac Lawrence) to the University of Nairobi (UoN) in Kenya; Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, MA, USA; and Stellenbosch University, South Africa to brainstorm about strategies for improving the research environment at MUST. The Nairobi trip provided the opportunity to gain experience from another well-established Sub-Saharan African research university. These meetings with leading UoN officials resulted in an agreement to develop a memorandum of understanding between MUST and UoN to form partnerships and share resources.

In addition, UoN encouraged MUST to subscribe to the Research Africa platform to gain access to a wide range of funding opportunities as this was one of the reasons they were ranking highly in research. Research Africa (http://info.researchprofessional.com/research-africa/) is a comprehensive source of information about sponsors of African science and development research funding programs for senior researchers, research managers, administrators and others tasked with promoting science and innovation research capacity of their institution. This platform is the clearing house for a range of funding opportunities including research grants, development grants, Scholarships, fellowships, mobility grants, research funding, project funding, capacity building grants, travel grants, research collaboration calls, hosting of conferences grants, hosting visits, innovation grants, publication grants, thesis /dissertation support grants, and clinical trials. The MUST team met with the Research Africa team in Nairobi, and, as a result, the MURTI supported the MUST subscription to the platform for one year to allow faculty direct access to funding opportunities with the hope that there can be successful grant applications to sustain the subsequent subscriptions.

The MUST Office of Research Administration (ORA) is using these and other resources to identify funding opportunities and link potential interdisciplinary research teams to them. Two such teams were formed and responded to funding opportunities. One team headed by Gertrude Kiwanuka, MS, PhD, submitted the application titled “Mbarara University Research Ethics Education Program” to Fogarty International Center; the other team is developing an application on HIV for high risk populations. The ORA will also assist the four MURTI Fellows and their Mentors in responding to extramural funding opportunities. A dedicated grant-writing training will be provided to MURTI Fellows working with their Mentors in 2016 to develop such proposals. The Workshop also will be open to other junior research faculty at MUST.

In Nairobi, the MUST team also visited African Mental Health Foundation (AMHF) to discuss prospects of collaboration in child and adolescent mental health, trauma, as well as share experiences in community entry. A memorandum of understanding was drafted and is awaiting completion. It may serve as a Fellow placement site, but it is primarily for promoting research in the department of Psychiatry.

Implementation of the MURTI:

MURTI Short courses. We have so far conducted 14 of the 16 research capacity development courses planned for Year 1. Five were required core courses originally proposed, five (marked with *) were required core courses added in response to a need assessment survey on needs of MUST junior faculty, and four were elective courses:

Core Courses

  • Responsible Conduct of Research

  • Grant-Writing, Administration, and Management

  • Scientific Manuscript Writing

  • Intellectual Property

  • Data Management

  • *Systematic Review of Research Literature

  • *Endnote Referencing Manager

  • *Qualitative Research Methods

  • *Implementation Research

  • *Archiving and Retrieving of Research Samples

Elective Courses:

  • Fundamentals of Molecular Diagnostics

  • Good Clinical Laboratory Practice

  • Development of Psychological Tools

  • Advanced Research Methods.

Courses in quantitative research methods and developing policy briefs will take place in June 2016 as detailed in Aim 5 (Section B.2.2.5 below). The MUST Office of Research Administration (ORA) identified and engaged experienced facilitators to develop and administer the courses; course leaders were given an orientation about MURTI, and a time frame in which to complete the course development process. A training schedule was developed and followed as planned.

All courses offered at MUST are open to all MUST junior faculty. In the five originally proposed core courses, 44 were trained in Responsible Conduct of Research, 18 in Grant Writing, 22 in Scientific Manuscript Writing, 12 in Intellectual Property, and 31 in Data Management. In the five newly developed core courses, 17 were trained in systematic literature review, 28 in endnote referencing manager, 32 in qualitative research methods, 19 in archiving and retrieving of research samples, and 31 in implementation research. In the four elective courses, 26 were trained in Fundamentals of Molecular Diagnostics, 63 in Good Clinical Laboratory Practice, 13 in Development of Psychological Tools, and 4 MURTI Trainees in advanced research methods.

In June 2016 during the last TAC meeting Year 01, we will select the second cohort of four Fellows whose applications have been received to begin the program in August 2016. All the MURTI short courses offered in Year 01 will be repeated in Year 02, and the Fellows will be expected to attend all the core courses, an advanced research methods course and relevant elective courses.